Religious con­ser­va­tives turn on each other af­ter Deal com­ments

Rift emerges in de­bate over con­tro­ver­sial ‘religious free­dom’ bill

GA Voice - - Georgia News - Nathan Deal’s bib­li­cal ar­gu­ment against dis­crim­i­na­tion



There’s been a rau­cous de­bate over one form or an­other of sev­eral “religious free­dom” bills for the last three years in Ge­or­gia, with both sides pretty clearly de­fined—the religious right on one side and the LGBT com­mu­nity, busi­ness com­mu­nity and more pro­gres­sive faith lead­ers on the other. That same def­i­ni­tion has ap­plied in this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion dur­ing the de­bate over House Bill 757.

But a rift that’s al­ways bub­bled un­der the sur­face erupted on March 3, when Gov. Nathan Deal told the AJC he would re­ject any mea­sure that “al­lows dis­crim­i­na­tion in our state in or­der to pro­tect peo­ple of faith,” urged religious con­ser­va­tives not to feel threat­ened by the U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion on same-sex mar­riage, and called on fel­low Repub­li­cans who are in fa­vor of the bill to take a deep breath and “rec­og­nize that the world is chang­ing around us.”

Need­less to say, there were many who did not take that deep breath. Lead­ers of the religious right swarmed over the com­ments, but is this a short-term fight or did the gov­er­nor set the ta­ble for a more per­ma­nent di­vide? And by mak­ing a bib­li­cal ar­gu­ment for dis­crim­i­na­tion, did Deal (a South­ern Bap­tist) pro­vide a roadmap for other leg­is­la­tors to fol­low as the de­bate about “religious free­dom” and LGBT rights con­tin­ues on in the years ahead?

House Repub­li­cans com­pared to Hitler

The re­sponse was swift. Tony Perkins of the anti-LGBT hate group Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil wrote on the group’s blog that Deal was “us­ing his faith as a fig leaf to hide be­hind.” An­drew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Lib­erty Com­mis­sion (the pub­lic pol­icy arm of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion) wrote an edi­to­rial in the Na­tional Re­view against Deal’s com­ments, as did Pas­tor Tom Rush of Berean Bap­tist Church in So­cial Cir­cle on his blog.

But none of this com­pared to Mike Grif­fin, the pub­lic affairs di­rec­tor of the Ge­or­gia Bap­tist

March 18, 2016

Gov. Nathan Deal made a bib­li­cal ar­gu­ment against dis­crim­i­na­tion on March 3 that ex­posed a rift and could have loom­ing im­pli­ca­tions. (Cour­tesy photo) “I wish that more law­mak­ers, many of whom like to quote the Bi­ble with great fre­quency, would con­sult the text in its en­tirety in­stead of cherry pick­ing quotes here and there, [so they can] un­der­stand the pur­pose and the in­tent of our sa­cred scrip­tures.” Mis­sion Board, who in a March 10 post in the Chris­tian In­dex com­pared Repub­li­can House mem­bers to Adolph Hitler for fail­ing to move HB 757 for­ward. Law­mak­ers bashed Grif­fin from the House floor later that morn­ing.

Rabbi Peter Berg of The Tem­ple in Mid­town At­lanta has a dif­fer­ent take on Deal’s com­ments. Berg worked on the fed­eral Religious Free­dom Restora­tion Act as a rab­bini­cal stu­dent in 1993 but op­poses a state ver­sion of the bill as well as House Bill 757.

“I think the gov­er­nor’s read is ex­actly right,” he tells Ge­or­gia Voice. “Whether you’re look­ing at the To­rah, the Qu­ran or the New Tes­ta­ment, all of our sa­cred scrip­tures from all of our re­li­gions are all about tol­er­ance and lov­ing your neigh­bor as your­self, and all sup­port those kinds of sig­nif­i­cant religious free­doms. I’m glad that the gov­er­nor spoke truth to power and shot down a bill that would have been very dan­ger­ous for Ge­or­gia. I wish that more law­mak­ers, many of whom like to quote the Bi­ble with great fre­quency, would con­sult the text in its en­tirety in­stead of cherry pick­ing quotes here and there, [so they can] un­der­stand the pur­pose and the in­tent of our sa­cred scrip­tures.”

‘This is bril­liant’

Doug Teper, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and cur­rent ad­junct pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can govern­ment and Ge­or­gia pol­i­tics at Ge­or­gia State Univer­sity, had an in­stant re­ac­tion to Deal’s com­ments.

“When I saw that quote, I just thought, ‘This is bril­liant,’” he tells Ge­or­gia Voice. “That is such a great way to take the other side.”

Teper sees the rift hav­ing im­pli­ca­tions at least into Novem­ber, men­tion­ing Don­ald Trump’s po­ten­tial ef­fect on down bal­lot races

The fol­low­ing are ex­cerpts of com­ments Gov. Nathan Deal made in a March 3 in­ter­view with the AJC:

“What the New Tes­ta­ment teaches us is that Je­sus reached out to those who were con­sid­ered the out­casts, the ones that did not con­form to the religious so­ci­eties’ view of the world … we do not have a be­lief in my way of look­ing at re­li­gion that says we have to dis­crim­i­nate against any­body. If you were to ap­ply those stan­dards to the teach­ing of Je­sus, I don’t think they fit.”

Then af­ter cit­ing a pas­sage from the Gospel of John that showed Je­sus reach­ing out to an out­cast:

“What that says is we have a be­lief in for­give­ness and that we do not have to dis­crim­i­nate un­duly against any­one on the ba­sis of our own religious be­liefs. We are not jeop­ar­dized, in my opin­ion, by those who be­lieve dif­fer­ently from us. We are not, in my opin­ion, put in jeop­ardy by virtue of those who might hold dif­fer­ent be­liefs or who may not even agree with what our Supreme Court said the law of the land is on the is­sue of same-sex mar­riage. I do not feel threat­ened by the fact that peo­ple who might choose same­sex mar­riages pur­sue that route.” in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and say­ing, “The Repub­li­can Party’s not go­ing any­where for a while, but if you’re hav­ing th­ese other bat­tles down bal­lot like in the leg­is­la­ture, they could have a prob­lem and it shapes up pretty much like the Cham­ber of Com­merce Repub­li­cans ver­sus the religious right.”

But by ex­pos­ing that rift, did Deal also pro­vide a roadmap for other law­mak­ers to use in ex­plain­ing their op­po­si­tion to such bills in the fu­ture?

“Yes, def­i­nitely. It was very well said. One of the old­est tricks in the book is if you’re a politi­cian any­where in the Bi­ble Belt to find a good quote in the Bi­ble that fits your needs at the time,” Teper says laugh­ing. “They’re all in there, so you can find one that meets pretty much any of your needs.”

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